President Donald Trump, who had been practicing restraint when it came to Iran, surprised many by approving the drone strike on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani while this leader was in Iraq meeting with Shiite militias. Was such a strike a good idea? Here are a few points to consider.
First, this is not a purely partisan issue. Joe Biden stated that nobody will mourn Soleimani’s death, while Elizabeth Warren claimed he was responsible for hundreds of deaths, even as both considered the decision reckless. Nor is criticism just coming from the Democrats, as Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul criticized the decision. “If you don’t want perpetual war, you don’t keep sending more targets,” he stated.
Second, we need to move away from this desire to label anyone we don’t like as “them” and try to revise history to suit the politics of today. Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, attacked us on 9/11. But a few years later, we had an administration tried to convince us that Iraq launched the attacks. Now, VP Mike Pence is claiming that Iran was behind the 9/11 attacks, a conspiracy theory debunked by the 9/11 Commission and others. There’s more than enough to criticize the Quds Forces without trying to slam a square peg through a round hole here.
Third, we need to understand that actions have consequences. Every leader of the KGB was just as bad as Soleimani during the Cold War, but we didn’t assassinate them for a good reason. The attack that killed a U.S. contractor and hit a number of Iraqi Security Forces (dominated by Iraqi Shiites) was more likely the work of an ISIS remnant rather than an Iraqi Shiite militia group, according to an ABC News Report, yet it was cited as justification for the drone strike.
Fourth, this will hurt our position in Iraq, just as we were poised to make gains. As our own Voice of America (VOA) reported, a Lebanese Political Science Professor contended last month that “Iraqi Shiites are rediscovering that they are Arab,” as they protest “against Iran’s meddling in their country.” We were on the verge of reducing any lingering influence of Iran in the country. But that opportunity is gone now.
The Iraqi Parliament voted to tell our troops to leave, despite intense lobbying by the Trump Administration. It was a different story back when our troops teamed up with the Shiite militias to defeat the ISIS invasion of Iraq. But the drone strike on Gen. Soleimani has upset those plans, sidelining those Shiites who support our presence, and helping the pro-Iranian parties. Sunni politicians were absent and Kurdish politicians, normally the most eager to back our position, stayed away. Guess selling out Syrian Kurds to Turkish forces after they worked so hard with our military to defeat ISIS didn’t go over so well in Iraq.
President Trump had previously resisted attempts by the hawks in his administration to hit Iran. Advisers pressured him to retaliate after a drone was downed, and after a Yemeni faction hit some oil fields in Saudi Arabia. But Trump chose not to escalate the conflict. He may like tough talk, and even approve an occasional limited use of force, but does not seem to want war.
But in being pushed to action by more aggressive elements on his foreign policy team (interested in their own political and economic calculations), Trump may find himself accidentally in the very war he sought to avoid. He needs to return to his policy of pragmatism, and clean out those who might have policy agendas that differ from this measured approach in the Middle East.